Blog Post

Is Mobile Search Killing Traditional SEO?


Disappointing earnings reports from big tech companies like Google have everyone talking about the “next big thing:” Mobile. According to Gartner, the mobile advertising market is expected to triple in size to more than $20B in the next three years. This leaves many of our resellers in the SEO space asking if they should be worried. And they are not alone. According to the latest SEMPO State of Search Marketing survey, 88% of respondents are concerned about changes in the mobile industry and how that will affect marketing.

The Industry is Trying to Adapt

The big internet players are all still trying to figure out how to shift their thinking and re-engineer business models to adapt to the increasing use of mobile devices. Google has made it big by perfecting search on desktops, but it hasn’t quite figured out how to leverage its prowess on mobile. 60% of Facebook users log in via mobile, but the company’s value has decreased since going public as it struggles with the demanding questions about how to make money via mobile. As an analyst at Forrester research explained in a New York Times piece, companies are asking the question: “What is it that our customers are doing through the mobile channel that is quite distinct from what we are delivering them through our traditional Web channel?”

Searches on Mobile and Desktop

The challenge companies that rely on online advertising revenue face is how to connect the desktop and mobile activities of its users with the places where they like to buy stuff. And that comes with an added complication of the consumer desire for privacy. Mobile advertising has to be more deliberate than desktop ads; it needs to be integrated with and suited for the mobile products themselves. And it’s not a simple mobile versus desktop equation -- it’s a broader strategy where mobile and desktop complement one another. User experience is top of mind.

Companies like Facebook, who has rolled out 7 advertising products for mobile this year, are struggling with how to find a way to pursue mobile advertising that does not detract from the user experience so much that it turns people off. It’s not simply a matter of taking desktop ads and moving them to mobile. It’s figuring out how we use our mobile devices and adapting marketing/advertising strategies accordingly. Facebook’s mobile-ad products manager, Jeff Kanter explains to Bloomberg: “We’ve been really wondering how we can transform the ways that businesses and people connect... How can the ad experience be additive -- where if we actually took this away, users would want it back?” Twitter CEO Dick Costolo doesn’t see a conflict between advertisers and the user experience. CNBC: “Our business is only going to work if we’re putting content in front of our users that they want to see and that they engage with. And that’s the simple equation... If we do that, the users will be happy, our business will work, and our advertisers win.”

Mobile Search Will Increase

The shift to mobile means more and more consumers will be searching in new and different ways. There is a disconnect right now between mobile advertising options and how mobile consumers are searching (and clicking and buying) and the overall user experience. [The Wall Street Journal had a great piece on the ads/tactics that are and are not working on mobile.] When you talk about search, of course, you talk about Google. And there is a lot of chatter about the relevance of Google as it struggles to find its mobile way. Many analysts cite mobile challenges as the main reason Google will be dethroned. CEO Larry Page said yesterday that what users really want is a seamless user experience as they move from desktop to various devices and the company will combine mobile and desktop ads (which some feel is not the right approach). Google may figure it out or buy a company that does and continue its reign, or someone else (old or new) will figure it out sooner and become a dominant player.

Does this mean traditional SEO is dead?

No. Just like the rise of social media has not killed traditional SEO, mobile will not kill SEO either. The data show that people like to use PCs for certain activities such as research and large purchases. They use mobile search most often for local information (A BIA/Kelsey report projects that local searches via mobile will overtake desktop by 2015.) And they frequently move between desktop and mobile devices with one goal in mind. Will more people engage in mobile search? You bet. The Macquarie Group has been tracking search data since 2006 and reports that search declined last month (4%) for the first time since then. Analysts there attribute the decrease mainly to the rise of mobile search. But people are not going to abandon their desktops entirely any day soon. Right now, there are still more searches performed via desktop than mobile. According to StatCounter, 88% of searches over the last 3 months worldwide were done via desktop .

Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Mobile vs. Desktop Market Share

You need a mobile website

According to Google, 63% of users use mobile search to look up a business. And more than 60% of people will abandon a site on their mobile if it’s difficult to read, load or navigate. That means you will want your web site to be optimized for mobile and make sure users can find you on a map and call you. But in terms of traditional SEO, most of the same rules still apply for rankings on a mobile device - with the one exception that maps are extremely important.

Conclusions

If you are looking for a more comprehensive mobile strategy, you will have to wait. If Facebook and Google have not figured it out yet, there’s little chance you will. So for now, keep working on your traditional SEO and make sure your mobile website is well-designed for those users who use mobile to find you. Make sure your local map listings are well tuned. People are trying to reach you via multiple channels. Don’t lose sight of the importance of maintaining your traditional SEO as part of a well-rounded and diversified online marketing strategy while you prepare for mobile.

Comments (3)

  • Chad Reply

    Great post. One thing that I have seen some confusion on is whether mobile stats include tablets or not. The studies I have see show that tablet usage is a tweener... it has its own set of behaviors a little like mobile but more like desktop.

    10/24/12 at 08:26 PM
  • Adam Reply

    Yeah. I think website owners are confused too. They keep showing me a mobile version of their website on my 10 inch tablet when I want the full site. Annoying.

    11/02/12 at 12:10 PM
  • Renee Reply

    That is true. So much confusing information about what exactly MOBILE really is???

    11/05/12 at 04:48 PM

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